Aboriginal Economic Development Forum

Release Date: 
8 November 2019

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‘Kaya wangju’ – hello and welcome.

Richard thank you for your warm welcome to your beautiful country.

I pay my respects to you and all Larrakia people, as the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we meet.

I extend that respect to Larrakia elders, past and present, and to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here today.

It is appropriate this Forum is held on the land of the Larrakia people – as they are actively pursuing economic and business opportunities on their land. 

Richard, I want to commend you on the work you do in training doctors and health professionals here in the Northern Territory – how you help them navigate the diverse complexities and challenges faced in Indigenous Health.

As a former Minister for Indigenous Health, and as the Minister for Indigenous Australians – I am committed to working closely with those on the ground, listening and learning from them, and building upon those things that work best so we can realise better health outcomes across Australia. 

Thank you for inviting me to open the second day of the 9th Aboriginal Economic Development Forum.

As I have been travelling around Australia – I am constantly reminded of the vision, commitment and entrepreneurship of Indigenous Australian business owners.

Here in the Northern Territory, businesses owned and operated by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are growing rapidly across a range of industries.

This year’s theme of ‘Boundless Possible’ highlights that anything is possible here in Northern Australia, like the Gumatj in Arnhem Land will use 65 hectares of their traditional land on the Gulkula escarpement for the development of a Space Centre. Yolngu people will benefit from being involved the space and tourism industries.

Over the border in Camooweal the traditional owners there have applied their traditional knowledge with the help of modern science and industry to develop a range of products that use spinifex grass.

Anything is possible for Indigenous Australians who are looking to start or grow a business.

I want to ensure that the young people of today can take up future opportunities.  That is why, I am determined to work with families and communities to make sure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children get the best start through a good education. 

Here in the Northern Territory, too many children are not attending school regularly and are getting caught up in the justice system. I am today calling on governments, families and communities to turn this around. 

We can’t create jobs and business opportunities without the local workforce.

Empowerment through economic development

The Morrison Government’s strong economic management is creating an environment where we can deliver more jobs and economic growth to ensure prosperity for all Indigenous Australians.

With about 300,000 additional jobs created in 2018-19, employment grew by 2.6 per cent.

But we also have to ensure that this growth in jobs is being realised across our nation, across industry and in a way that is leading to a generational improvement in employment outcomes.

Earlier this week I travelled to Ampilatwatja, a small culturally strong community in central Australia with a population of just over 400 people.

90 per cent of the population here is Indigenous – and the personal median weekly income is $235.

I was in Ampilatwatja to hand over the title to more than 3,000 hectares of land as part of a native title settlement in the area to the traditional owners.

It was a significant milestone, and the culmination of a long journey for the Alyawarre people that recognised that their traditional ownership of the land is uninterrupted and everlasting.

The grant ensures that the traditional owners control more of their traditional lands while still retaining the pastoralist’s capacity to effectively manage Ammaroo Station and incorporate the former stock routes and reserve into the Pastoral Lease.

This is economic empowerment – while looking to maintain and protect current economic activity.

It is entrusting Indigenous Australians to make decisions that will benefit their communities and people.

Land security is economic security.

And from economic security comes the ability to put in place the foundations that will lead to economic growth, job opportunity and better security for Indigenous Australians.

That’s why today it is announce my intention to prioritise the finalisation of grants of land for an additional 15 Indigenous land claims in the Northern Territory.

This follows recommendations made by the Aboriginal Land Commissioner to Parliament earlier this year.

The Aboriginal Land Commissioner’s Report covered 16 land claims recommended for grants —some of which were lodged nearly 40 years ago.

That is 40 years of lost economic opportunity and empowerment of Indigenous Australians at a local level.

It’s time we took action – and put focus on resolving these land claims.

It’s time that we put the focus on the economic potential of this land as happens elsewhere around Australia.

This will be a process to determine the details on each individual claim, then we can move forward on finalising these longstanding grants.

Sadly, these outstanding agreements are outliving some Indigenous Elders, this happened in Ampilatwatja.

Through land security communities can determine how they build economies, develop new jobs, preserve and promote language and culture.

Potential is unrivalled here in the Northern Territory – we have the power to be transformative – across generations.

All governments should get on board with this approach and renew their commitment to improving economic outlooks and prosperity.  

This is the path we have in front of us – and to best understand the significance of what we’re proposing we must understand where we currently stand.

Indigenous employment

The most recent census found that approximately 223,000 Indigenous Australians aged 15 years and over were participating in the labour force – this represents a participation rate of 52 per cent, compared with 77 per cent for non-Indigenous Australians.

I see that Indigenous businesses and business owners have a vital role to play in closing this gap – when we find success in business it inevitably leads to greater opportunities for our people.

I acknowledge that this gap between the employment rate of Indigenous Australians and other Australians of around 25 percent is too large. 

We know that a lack of adequate skills, job opportunities and transport problems are the most significant barriers to finding employment for Indigenous Australians.

We also know that these can be overcome through tailored programmes designed in partnership with communities; and for broader support for business, which I will come too later.

There are, however, some more systemic issues that contribute to this gap in employment.

Education, Health, disability, suitable housing, caring responsibilities and geographic distance are also contributing to a lack of participation in the labour market. 

There are also increasing reports of more Indigenous Australians opting not to participate in income support programs.

Over the past decade, there have been some 347 Indigenous-specific employment projects, and 165 providers in the Northern Territory.

From this we have seen 5,301 employment commencements; and of this 2,964 of these job seekers have achieved 26 weeks in employment.

For too long we have looked at statistics such as these and focused on the negatives – on the gap.

It’s time we challenge this thinking. While we know that there is more to do; we need to celebrate the succeses of 5,000 more people in work, with almost 3,000 of these in longer-term employment.

We owe it to those who are having a go and reversing long entrenched disadvantage.

This is shifting the pendulum – for the good.

In order to build on this, we must look to partner with those on the ground, who have a deep seeded understanding of pre-existing barriers, and learn how their involvement and engagement is providing tailored support that addresses the need of the individual.

During my visit to Ampilatwatja I met with several Community Development Program providers that were making a real difference in the local community.

Through the CDP they had developed local programmes to assist individuals with their job searching as well as practical community driven solutions to improving school attendance.

Recently announced CDP reforms are delivering more protections for vulnerable job seekers and provide more pathways to work – moving more people off welfare and into jobs.

When I was out on the ground – those who were the beneficiaries of the CDP were sharing with me their dreams and aspirations – the hope and empowerment they were getting through participation in the programme.

This is proof that the CDP is transforming lives and going some way to the economic empowerment of individuals and communities.

From one job can come one business – and from that business can come the next opportunity to break the cycle of welfare and dependence and transform someone’s life.

We should be promoting these successes, talking about the good that is stemming from this programme and sharing the real stories of those who are seeing such a positive change in their lives.

We want to see this economic and employment development continue – that’s why we have launched the 1,000 Jobs Package - a wage subsidy to support the creation of 1,000 new jobs for Community Development Program (CDP) participants across remote Australia.

I encourage you to look at how you can utilise this programme in your communities.

Let’s take the 1,000 jobs before us in this package and ask ourselves how they could be the genesis for the next 10,000 Indigenous jobs – through the creation of new and innovative regional businesses that transform and empower communities.

It is important that we work together to ensure Indigenous job seekers continue to be supported; and importantly have access to long-term sustainable jobs.

Other government support

I’m aware that there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach to addressing the employment challenges before us – and that’s why the Morrison Government is refreshing Closing the Gap with a genuine commitment to partnership with state and territory governments and, for the first time, the Coalition of the Peaks.

Unfortunately, for too long, governments of all persuasions have made Indigenous policy for Indigenous Australians, rather than with us, with Indigenous Australians.

As Minister for Indigenous Australians I am committed to challenging this norm; and to realise a new environment and paradigm where programmes and policies meet the needs of the individual and of community – where ownership drives engagement – and where outcomes are measured in a positive and meaningful way. 

Later today, the National Indigenous Australians Agency, in partnership with Supply Nation, will be running a Trade Fair.

This event will showcase the diversity and depth of businesses in the Northern Territory.

They range from innovative energy solutions to delivering advanced construction, as well facilities management capabilities for the Australian Government.

Events such as this are valuable in connecting and strengthening relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander entrepreneurs, the private sector, industry, government and non-government organisations.

It is through these partnerships that we will realise greater opportunities for Indigenous Australians.

While government doesn’t hold the sole responsibility for creating jobs - we do play an important role within these partnerships.

In the financial year 2019-20, the Morrison Government is investing $685 million through the Indigenous Advancement Strategy to support jobs and economic development opportunities.

The Indigenous Procurement Policy drives demand for Australian Government agencies to ensure Indigenous businesses are providing goods and services in supply chains.

Since 2015, 307 Indigenous businesses registered here in the Northern Territory have won 1,385 contracts worth more than $351.6 million thanks to demand driven by the Australian Government’s IPP.

When Australian Government money is to be spent buying goods and services, it is a requirement that for certain contracts an Indigenous business is approached first. This includes contracts between $80,000 and $200,000 and all contracts to be delivered in remote areas of Australia including Darwin.

From 1 July this year a new contract value target for the Australian Government is being phased in to ensure Indigenous businesses have greater opportunity to win contracts of a higher value.

In addition, from July 2020 Indigenous participation targets will apply to more industries sectors. This will create even more opportunities for Indigenous businesses to be included in the supply chain of major government procurements.

This is directly strengthening the economic wealth and social wellbeing of Indigenous Australians living in the Northern Territory.

The Morrison Government is also committed to the Indigenous Business Sector Strategy.

It is a ten-year plan to ensure the Indigenous business sector continues to grow and thrive by improving access to business and financial support.

It includes funding for a strategy that provides:

  • $27 million to improve Indigenous businesses’ access to capital;
  • $22 million to establish two Indigenous business and employment hubs in NSW and WA, and a third hub to be established by 2020;
  • $19 million to expand microbusiness support and finance in regional and remote Australia; and
  • $6 million to pilot remote Indigenous business incubators.

The Morrison Government is implementing policies to ensure Indigenous Australians have the same opportunities for business and employment as other Australians.

To support the growing Indigenous tourism sector – we are also delivering a new four-year $40 million Indigenous Tourism Fund.

The fund will be established to support Indigenous tourism enterprises to start-up and grow.

Public input is currently being sought on the design of this fund and public consultation will inform the final design of this funding, which we will launch next year.

We want to find out what is important to Indigenous tourism enterprises and reflect that feedback in the final design of the Indigenous Tourism Fund.

I would encourage those tourism operators here today to provide feedback and your views while here at the Trade Fair.


‘Boundless Possible’ is a true reflection of Indigenous economic potential.

Be it the dreams and aspirations of Indigenous Australians as business owners or job seekers.

The Morrison Government acknowledges the important place Indigenous businesses hold in the Australian economy – and we want to see such businesses grow and prosper.

I encourage everyone here today to look at how we can support you to grow your business and provide new employment opportunities for all Australians.

I love coming to Darwin, and to the Northern Territory because there is such strong self-belief; there is great ambition for what tomorrow will bring; and there is a great determination to realise a better future.

Government can merely support these aims – it is up to you to work, invest and drive these outcomes – I have tremendous faith and optimism that as Indigenous Australians we can continue to go from strength to strength.

Thank you.